Indian Railways, the country’s largest freight mover, has started exploring a design change in its rolling stock to see if coal and other minerals can be carried in covered wagons instead of open ones to prevent coal dust from flying into the environment and also to expand the use of wagons.
“I have asked our teams to explore the option to see what design can be created… if these wagons can have covers. So they are looking into it,” Railway Minister Piyush Goyal told The Indian Express Friday.
An ongoing investigation by The Indian Express has revealed that transport of coal, at the rate of 25 tonnes per minute, by rail and road, has left in its wake environmental damage across Goa. And that much more coal is on the way — an estimated 51 million tonnes every year by 2030.
Speaking at the Idea Exchange programme of The Indian Express, Goyal said: “I take all of these reports… and I read them every morning. I take cognisance of that.”
Being the largest mover of coal in India, Railways has deployed around 72,000 wagons — or around 65 per cent of its freight rolling stock — to move coal across India since it occupies the top spot in terms of volumes and earnings among all kinds of material it transports. It accounts for around 40 per cent of railway earnings.
Known as BOXN wagons, these open-to-sky boxes on wheels are used for coal-carriage for operational efficiency as they can be loaded and unloaded faster, owing to being coverless. They are typically overturned for unloading faster. Loading too is easier in BOXN in mines, as well as in ports where imported coals are loaded from silos.
To prevent coal dust from flying into the environment, water is sprinkled on the coal at the loading point, and in many cases — like in Goa — the wagons are covered with tarpaulin. But as The Indian Express investigation has revealed, this solution is far from foolproof.
Now, the Railway Board has started exploring the option if these wagons have to be fitted with a hard-top cover without compromising the operations efficiency of freight movement.
“We have suggested that the new design should not decrease the coal-carrying capacity of each wagon because that hurts our revenue. And from an operational point of view, it should enable tippling,” Railway Board Member Traffic Mohammad Jamshed told The Indian Express. “Tippling” is the technical term used for mechanised overturning of wagons for unloading and loading by special wagon tipplers.
There is more benefit in covered wagons than protecting the environment. Covered wagons will make them more multipurpose, to carry anything from cement to salt — commodities which are difficult to move in open-to-elements wagons. “We have to given cement companies a 30 per cent discount if we carry cement in BOXN wagons because there is the fear or rain etc,” he said.